What the Harry Potter play means for Broadway.

So, I don’t know if you heard, but J.K. Rowling isn’t done with the Harry Potter stories.

And her next incarnation of the wonderful world of wizards isn’t going to be in a book . . . and it isn’t going to be on a screen.

It’s going to be on a stage.

This past June, Ms. Rowling announced that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will open in the West End in the summer of 2016, and will be helmed by none other than Once and my Macbeth director, John Tiffany.

Ok, so, I never made it through all the Potter books or movies, but I gotta say, I’m excited to see it, especially since they signed up Tiffany (who staged the best show not on Broadway this past season – St. Ann’s Let the Right One In).

But there’s something else exciting about the announcement of this production.

The theater made it to the cool kids’ table.

Harry Potter is one of the most valuable and profitable franchises on the p-p-p-planet.  It’s a super-sized brand that has generated billions of bucks for everyone involved. And Rowling could have continued to pump out books and movies and Harry Potter key chains, blankets and Pez dispensers.

But for the next ‘stage’ of Harry’s life, she chose to bring him into the theater.

In 2013, Broadway tipped when Universal Pictures President, Jimmy Horowitz, told the NY Times that Wicked would be the most profitable venture in the company’s history – beating all of its movies.

And now, with Harry expanding to the stage, it seems that the major players in the entertainment industry are including the theater as part of their brand expansion (which is also why every single movie studio now has an internal Broadway shop dedicated to their titles).

This is a good thing.  It is.

Unless Broadway shows go the way of big budget movies, with projects assembled in the boardroom using only the artists that have tested well.  Those big box companies coming onto our shores need to remember to hand over the reins to artists like Tiffany and Producers like Sonia Friedman (who is on board for Potter).  

Because success in the theater is still the result of the independent maverick who goes their own way to make magic happen . . . kind of like Harry Potter himself.

 

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Why most first drafts of new plays are overwritten.

We get a lot of new plays submitted to us through our open submission program (we’re proud to be one of the few offices that take unsolicited submissions – even though, admittedly, it can take us a while to get to all of ’em, but if you saw our inbox, you’d understand) as well as through our script coverage service.

And if there’s one commonality between all of the new plays, especially the ones by new-er writers, it’s that most of them are overwritten.

By overwritten, I don’t mean that they’re just long.  Because I bet if you polled the most successful playwrights, screenwriters, novelists, speechwriters, etc. about the first drafts of their best work, they’d all say the final draft was shorter (or, as I like to say, more efficient) than their first.  So all of us start out with too much, and that’s not necessarily bad. (I often describe the rewriting process like sculpting a statue – you start with a glob of clay . . . you take a little off, then a little more, and then a little more . . . )

So it’s not long I’m talking about.  What I’m talking about is different . . . and it’s specific to writing for the stage or any performance art, as opposed to fiction, poetry, etc.

See, the text you type into your little word processor, or Final Draft if you want to be really cool (I swear by it), wasn’t meant to be read.  It was meant to be said.

And I find that one of the simplest mistakes that all writers make is that they forget that great actors don’t need a ton of text to get a certain emotion across.  Or, simply said, the words don’t have to do all the work.  The inflection, the body language, the movement, and so on can sometimes do so much more than a paragraph of words that try to do the same thing.

Overwriting is an easy trap to fall into, because as Terrence McNally told me in his podcast, writing is the ultimate activity for control freaks.  And if you’re a control freak, then you might find yourself writing too much “to make sure that the audience gets it.”

But that’s not necessary.  Make sure the director gets it.  He or she will make sure the actor gets it.  And the audience will not only get it, but they’ll enjoy it that much more.

(This blog-tip was inspired by my Director of Creative Development, Eric Webb, who is the guy who reads all those script submissions.  Eric and I are cookin’ up a cool program with more writer tips like this, but we’re not ready to talk about it yet.  But if you want to be the first to know, sign up below.  It won’t be announced on this blog, so the email below is the only way to get the scoop.)

 



 

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Podcast Episode #33: A ‘smash’ of a writer, Theresa Rebeck!

In the time it took me to write this blog post, Theresa Rebeck probably finished another play.

And I’d bet you my blog subscribers, it’s a good one.

Theresa Rebeck is one of the most prolific writers we have in our business.  And I don’t just mean the business of Broadway.  I mean in the entire business we call show!  See, Ms. Rebeck is one of those few writers who writes for the stage, the screen, the small screen, the novel . . . and I wouldn’t be surprised if she told me she wrote some supreme court decisions and greeting cards in her spare time.

So tune in to hear the writer of Seminar and Smash talk about . . .

  • How the heck she writes so much and where she gets her ideas.
  • The differences between writing for the Stage and the Screen, and how she switches hats in an instant.
  • What happened with Smash, and could we ever see another Broadway-themed TV show?
  • How she and I became friends, and why that’s important to your career.
  • What all young writers should be doing.

. . . and a heck of a lot more . . . because we packed a lot of stuff into this 30 minute podcast, which is punctuated with Theresa’s infectious positivity and incredible passion for what she does.

Enjoy Theresa!

(Oh, and one production note – Theresa and I recorded this podcast over Skype, like the fancy-techno-geeks we are, so you’ll notice that she doesn’t sound like she is in the same room as me.  Because she wasn’t.  She was in Vermont.  Where she probably finished three plays, two movies, and a research paper on early Hungarian cabinetmaking.)

Click here to listen.

Listen to it on iTunes here.  (And give me a rating, while you’re there!)

Download it here.

Click here to read the transcript.

 

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10 Shows that Stand Out at the Fringe – 2015

Trumpets, please!  The NYC Fringe Festival is about to begin! Da-da-da-da!!!!

Before I announce this year’s “10 Shows That Stand Out,” I thought I’d fill you in on the history of why I do this every year.

Think back (insert Wayne’s World time travel sounds here) to circa 2002 . . .  I was a Company Manager wannabe Producer, so I was scouting out shows everywhere, including the Fringe Festival. I picked up that year’s catalog of shows, and flipped through, circling shows that got my attention, just based on their blurbs.  One of those shows was a brilliant little comedy called 6 Story Building by a guy named Kevin Del Aguila.

Yep, that Kevin Del Aguila, who went on to write Altar Boyz, star in Peter and the Starcatcher, and he even won an Emmy Award earlier this year.  Without me circling 6 Story Building in that catalog, Altar Boyz wouldn’t be what it became, and I might not be sitting here in my office, writing this blog.

So you see, how shows pitch themselves in 50 words can change a lot of people’s lives.  And that’s why every year, I go back to my roots, print out the catalog and circle shows that jump out and say, “Hey – take a look at me!” and list them in this blog.  Now remember, speaking super frankly, just because the show appears on this list doesn’t mean it’s any good . . . it just means there was something about it that said, “Huh, this show could have a future.”

And with that . . . here we go . . . these are the 10 Shows that Stand Out at this year’s Fringe (in alpha order) . . . and why:

1.  CODA (Children of Deaf Adults)

Ok, look, this one is personal.  Obviously I’m producing the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening this fall, so the radar goes off when I see anything that has to do with the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.  So this one may have gotten to me more than others, but there’s something to learn from this when targeting your marketing to Producers.  Got a show with a specific issue/theme/story . . . find people with an affinity for that same issue/theme/story, and go at ’em . . . hard.

2.  Far From Canterbury

You know what Wicked and Lion King and Phantom and Aladdin all have in common?  Yes, they are all super-sized hits.  Duh.   But they also all have an element of fantasy to them (lions don’t really sing, you know).  Broadway loves a fantasy (Hollywood, even more so), which is why my eyes lit up at this show which “is set in a land where the magic of fairy tales is real.”  And the lands of fairy tales also tend to have pretty decent sized spectacles . . . like Wicked and Lion King and Phantom and Aladdin.

3.  Hamlet the Hip-Hopera

Without a doubt hip hop/rap is the next music form to dominate Broadway (Hamilton is just the beginning of the revolution) so anything that incorporates this exciting art form intrigues me.  But hey, I’m the guy who wanted to turn 8 Mile into a musical (seriously – watch this – and imagine it on stage!).

4.  Hard Day’s Night

Ok, so the title dragged me in . . . because obviously it has me thinking the Beatles.  Who doesn’t love the Beatles?  So immediately when reading the title, I’m saying, “Yes . . . ”  (There’s an ol’ school sales tip of getting someone to say “Yes,” to something before making a bigger ask to get the person in the right frame of mind and this title does that.  For example, “Would you like to save money on your car insurance?”)  Now, the challenge for this show is that it has to deliver, because my expectations are high.  And although the Beatles do figure into the plot of this story about a “f**king crazy family,” this ain’t a jukebox musical.  But as one advertising executive said to me once, “It’s my job to get butts in seats.  It’s your job to make sure they have a great time.”  Titles can get butts in seats.  Just don’t disappoint, because your word of mouth will be twice as bad if the audience feels duped.

5.   Hick: A Love Story, The Romance of Lorena Hickok and Eleanor Roosevelt

Hamilton is just one of the many examples we’ve had of musicals with political figures in the literal spotlight.  1776, Fiorello, Clinton, etc.  And now we have a intimate look into the life of Eleanor Roosevelt and her relationship with Lorena Hickok through the 2,336 passionate letters the First Lady wrote to her.  Who doesn’t love looking deep into the private lives of public figures?  I was intrigued by this one, but on the fence, until I read two great quotes from the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Guardian that were in the blurb.  It wasn’t just the quotes that got me, it was where they were from.  Sources do mean a lot . . . and a city is a source in itself.  You’ve heard, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere!”  Well, you gotta be more than a slouch to make it in San Fran, for sure.

6.  Little One

This blurb grabbed my attention because of a quote as well, but this one wasn’t about the play.  Apparently the National Post, Globe & Mail and Now Magazine called the author of Little One, Hannah Moscovitch, “Canada’s Hottest Young Playwright.”  Often when Producers go shopping in festivals like the Fringe, they don’t find shows . . . but they do find artists.  So even though the “thriller” aspect of Little One did appeal to meI’m intrigued in this one not because of what’s in the festival today, but what might be on Broadway tomorrow.

7.  Serial: The Parody!

People love parodies.  Period.  Forbidden Broadway ran for 174 years.  50 Shades of Grey had two musical parodies.  Audiences are going nuts at That Bachelorette Show.  And yeah, Serial was so popular, it obviously is going to have a built in audience who wants to see it mocked . . . relentlessly.

8.  The Mad Scientist’s Guide to Romance, Robots and Soul-Crushing Loneliness

Can there be a more Fringe-y title than this one?  But that’s not what got my attention here.  What got me to include Mad Scientist on this list wasn’t seeing it in the catalog.  It was seeing it in my inbox. The producers of the show reached out to me about a week ago . . . with a very personal email, saying that they were “big fans,” mentioning the show as a possible tenant for my theater (they smartly targeted my interests, not theirs), and that they hoped I would include the show in my annual list of 10 picks of the Fringe. They knew what they wanted, and they asked for it.  And they got it.  Obviously this team knows the cardinal rule that it takes more than one impression to make a purchase.  You’ve got to hit your audience up in a variety of places.  And they got to me days before I started composing this list . . . yeah, like they planned it that way.  I don’t know whether the show will be great (although it sounds fun, it’s “70 minutes and you can drink during the show”), but the marketing certainly has been smart.

9.  The Submarine Show

The last line of The Sub Show‘s blurb reads, “Created by Emmy Award Winner Slater Penny and former Cirque Du Soleil Performer Jaron Hollander.”  See, you’re interested already, aren’t you?  Creators can be stars too, especially if they are winners of ANY award, never mind an Emmy, or if they’ve performed with one of the coolest entertainment companies in the world.  Talent by association is a thing.  Don’t forget to pitch your creative teams . . . heck, even your producing team if they’ve got cred.  (“From the Producers of August: Osage County” was used a few years ago for a Broadway play.)

10.  This Side of the Impossible

A Producer’s job is to see what else is working in the entertainment world to get a sense of what audiences are buying (that’s what led to my first hit, The Awesome 80s Prom – I had seen the success of Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding and the thousands of ripoffs and thought, “Man, people love them some interactive theater!”).  Penn & Teller is crushing it at the Marquis Theatre right now.  The Illusionists crushed it last Christmas (and I hear they are coming back).  And rumor has it David Blaine is looking for an NY spot for his show (he may have even taken a peek at my theater).  So when I read a blurb about a “Best of Fringe” winner at the San Fran FF that includes mind reading and “remarkable feats of the mystics,” I can’t help but think this is something that might work elsewhere.  True, true, I was a magic geek as a kid . . . but deep down, I think a lot of us still are.

 

So those are this year’s Top 10, along with these honorable mentions:  CopingPlathRunning Interference  and SCHOOLED (which was featured in our reading series a couple o’ years ago!).

What do you think of the above?  Any you like or don’t?  Flip through the catalog yourself and see what stands out to you . . . then tell us about it below.

And if you want to see a Fringe show, or 100 Fringe shows, don’t forget to enter my contest to win free tickets to as many as you want to see!  Click here.

 

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Your visit with us was much too short, Roger.

This past weekend, the theater lost one of its finest actors and finest gentlemen when Roger Rees passed away at the all too early age of 71.

Most people know Roger from his work on Cheers (just the thought of him as the foppish Robin Colcord makes me crack up to this day), but it was the stage where he made his home, winning a Tony for his role in the epic The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, and getting nominations for Shadowlands, Six Degrees of Separation, Indiscretions and as the co-director of Peter and the Starcatcher.

And I knew him from his work on this season’s The Visit.

“Knew him” is a bit of an exaggeration actually.  The truth is I didn’t know him all that well.  That’s why at the meet and greet on the very first day of rehearsal I walked up to him and said, “Hello, Roger, my name is Ken Davenport and I just wanted to . . . ”

“KEN,” He practically screamed, “I’m so happy to meet you!  I can’t believe we haven’t met before,” and he pulled me in for a hug.  Yeah.  Me, hugging Robin Colcord.

We chatted a bit about the show, and he told me how excited he was for it, and how he was so in love with the story . . . and how thankful he was that it was getting its shot on Broadway.  “This is what real theater is about, Ken.  This is what real theater is about,” he repeated.

I saw him from time to time at and around the show.  But that’s it.  No dinners or lunches or texts or anything.

But I tell you, in that brief exchange, I got a glimpse into the heart of Roger Rees.  And what a beautiful place it was.

Roger, you are what real theater is about.  You are.

And you’ll be missed.

 

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